Tuesday, December 13, 2011

BTL Top 5 Albums of 2011

I love music, and this was a great year for music.

There is something about the second year of a decade that brings out the best in artists.

Going back to 1991 which was simply a turning point for music in a generation.
Nirvana's Nevermind, Pearl Jam's Ten, and even U2's Achtung Baby set the standard for music for years to come.

Even at turn of the new millennium music hit another benchmark.
The Strokes' This is It, The White Strips' White Blood Cells, and Ryan Adam's Gold influenced artists for the next ten years.

The music produced in 2011 found proven artists creating some of the best work of their career.  There were also some new artists making a splash like FosterThePeople and Washed Out that rounded out a special year for music.

5.  Mat Kearney - Young Love
A transplant artist from Nashville that uniquely blends spoken word and soaring choruses into a fresh and catchy sound.  The album is a brief 40 minutes but with each listen you find this beat-driven effort to be surprisingly deep and layered. Hey Mama and Count on Me may be the stand out summer tracks but it is the storytelling in Down and Ships in the Night that finds Mat Kearney being the Bruce Springsteen of this generation with a touch of style from Elvis Costello.

4.  The Civil Wars - Barton Hallow
As the name suggests this is an odd couple that seems to work that contradiction to perfection.  Joy Williams, an established CCM artist came together with the talented but obscure folk singer John Paul White in 2009 Eddie's Attic but it wasn't until four years later that this non-couple found success.  The harmonies are tender and well crafted.  The lyrics are far from cliche and sometimes can be downright heartbreaking in Falling and Poison and Wine, but their is subtle thread of hope throughout the album that comes thru Barton Hallow and especially in I've Got This Friend.

3. Coldplay - Mylo Xyloto
This is the album that everyone wanted Coldplay to make, which also is its greatest critique but also its greatest compliment. Mylo is full of energy and enthusiasm which makes it tasty ear candy, and Coldplay is hoping you have a sweet tooth especially on tracks like Hurts like Heaven, Charlie Brown, and Every Teardrop.  There are some tracks that bring the right amount of balance to cut the sweet especially on Paradise and Us Against the World.  The album is great, but you expect it to be, it's Coldplay.

2. Adele - 21
You had a glimpse of Adele's brilliance on 19 with Chasing Pavements and on 21 this British songbird really finds her voice.  The album opens with it's strongest track Rolling in the Deep with its driving beat and gospel influence.  However, the rest of the album takes a melancholy turn as the theme of heartbreak and loss is found throughout.  Despite its somber message Adele's angelic voice eclipses the album with passion and soul especially on Rumor Has It and Someone Like You.  In today's Pop music culture of body conscious females and superfluous music Adele redefines the industry with beauty and grace.

1. Gungor - Ghost Upon the Earth
Ghosts Upon the Earth transcends the worship genre into creating something that is truly magically that can be best described as an art-rock-opera.  A concept album that ebbs and flows with themes of creation, loss, and redemption inspired by C.S. Lewis' Great Divorce.  Ghosts is an album that is to be listened to in full which is rare, with a CCM trend to manufacture predicable singable songs for Sunday morning.  Much like The Beatles who found a new sound in Revolver and perfected it with Sgt. Pepper, that is what Gungor has accomplished starting with Beautiful Things last year and building brilliantly to Ghosts Upon the Earth.

What are your favorite albums of 2011?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

BTL Top 5 Books of 2011

I wanted to do something for the Advent season, so I thought about writing a Top 5 Blog each week leading up to Christmas that will cover the top books, music, and movies of 2011.

This week's Top 5 will focus on my top the books of 2011. 

If only my English teacher, Mr. Doyle, could see me now.  I read a lot more now than I ever did in high school, minus the Cliff Notes, but I do not think they counted anyway.

It's an interesting thing to find myself reading more and playing video games less.  Welcome to life in the 30s, but I think it's going to be a good transition.

So here are some books that I found to be interesting, compelling, and worth checking out at your local library, or downloaded onto your latest tablet device; since Borders is now closed. 

5. Fall To Grace- Jay Bakker  

I enjoyed watching "One Punk Under God," a documentary on Sundance that tracked Televangelist Jimmie Bakker's son, Jay, in his ministry and struggles with God.  The book picks up were the show left off.  Dialoguing about his church plant, Revolution Church, his mother Tammy Faye, and wrestling with Grace in today's culture.  My family was affected greatly by PTL's rise and fall and to read Jay's words about his father's ministry and the aftermath hits pretty close to home.  There are some things that everyone may not agree with that Jay discusses but it is refreshing to see a Pastor's kid love God despite the trials of ministry.  

4. The Art of Fielding- Chad Harbach 

There is something about baseball that transcends life.  If football is the heartbeat of America, then baseball is the soul.  It is an underdog story about Henry Skrimshander, a brilliant fielder, that anyone who played baseball can relate to.  The characters are deep, layered and likable and remind me of friends that I used to play baseball with in college.  Whatever team you play for in the game of life, we all need a Henry on our team to remind us of "Sacrifice, passion, desire, attention to detail, and the need to strive like a champion everyday." 

3. Steve Jobs- Walter Isaacson 

Everyone loves Apple, not everyone loves Steve Jobs.  Maybe fascinated with Steve Jobs would be a better description.  Isaacson unfolds the layers of Jobs in an honest and compelling way.  What I like most about this book is that Walter makes you care about Steve maybe a little more than the Apple product in your hand or on your desk.  Isaacson writes, "Job's father had once taught him that a drive for perfection meant caring about the craftsmanship even of the parts unseen," and in an ironic way that is exactly what Walter does for Steve Jobs in this book. 

2. Start Something That Matters- Blake Mycoskie

You've seen the AT&T ad, and you might even own a pair of Tom's shoes, but it is the heart behind the shoe that makes you fall in love with this book.  Blake Mycoskie is the chief shoe giver for Toms and has started a movement with his "One for One" mission statement,  to give away a shoe for every shoe sold.  You learn about the humble, yet wise beginnings of a new type of business plan and along the way Blake inspires with tender true stories and great practical insights to get any small business off the ground.  You cannot read this book and not feel empowered to believe that if Blake Mycoskie can follow his dreams, you can too.

1. Love Wins- Rob Bell

As polarizing as Heaven and Hell can be that is exactly what this book did for many of it's readers.  People either criticized Bell for his generous view of the afterlife or they praised him for his generous view of the afterlife.  Whether you agree with Rob Bell's views or not you cannot argue that this book started a conversation that has not been had in a generation.  People would preach about Jesus not many would preach about Hell, let alone talk about it.  Love Wins was able to cross the pews and have cable news networks and blogs across the internet buzzing about what happens when we die, and that is a win. 

What are your favorite books of 2011?